Weird Norfolk: The haunting of Hardley crossroads
- Credit: Nick Butcher
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion, the witching time of night is when the spectral woman appears, clad in red and seemingly tethered to the remains of a cross-stone which once towered over this lonely patch of Norfolk.
Just a stone's throw – forgive the pun – from Loddon, at the edge of a field where three roads and a dirt track converge and almost within view of Hardley church, there stands a block of stone which has stood sentry at this point for centuries.
Cross Stones predate the building of churches: in the sixth and seventh centuries, wooden crosses marked the place where priests or monks would preach to the local community. Later, these were replaced with stone crosses such as the Hardley Stone and therefore many villages still have the remains of the old preaching crosses, even if they are only stumps.
In the world of magic and folklore, crossroads are seen to represent a location between our world and the spirit world and as such, a place where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events are more likely to take place – symbolically, crossroads represent a place which is neither here nor there, a hinterland betwixt and between.
Criminals and those who took their own lives were often buried at crossroads, a spot where it was felt they would be lost and unable to make their way to heaven, and they were also a place where Old Nick would regularly lurk, hoping to tempt a mortal into a pact that would eventually lead them down to his fiery lair.
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Local stories, first recorded by the 19th-century folklorist William Blythe Gerish, claim that on certain nights of the year, 'an old woman in red' appears at midnight sitting on the stone on the corner of Cross Stone Road, watching over all directions, guarding the place where all four meet.
Ghosts generally prefer a monochrome wardrobe – white, grey or black – but the Hardley Stone ghost is triumphantly dressed in red, a colour associated by many paranormal researchers as being a spirit energy which
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is protective of a particular place of person and by others as a sign that the ghost in question is demonic.
Between 1968 and 1974, the Institute of Psychophysical Research in Britain interviewed almost 2,000 people who said
that they had seen one or more ghosts – the results were later published in a book by Celia Green and Charles McCreery, Apparitions.
Despite long-held beliefs that sightings of ghosts generally involve a translucent entity, between half and two-thirds of those interviewed reported that the spirits they had seen were at least partially coloured, with coloured clothing or hair.
In Chinese culture, red is the colour which is most attractive to ghosts and it is believed that if you bury a murdered or wronged person in red clothes, you are enabling them to return from the spirit world in order to wreak their revenge against those who put them in their grave.
The Lady in Red (try not to hum Chris de Burgh) is one of Vancouver's most famous ghosts who haunts the historic Fairmont Hotel on West Georgia Street, which was built in 1939, walking the top floors in an elegant red gown and occasionally stopping at the window to stare wistfully out over the city while the Japanese have a very specific demon, Aka Manto, who haunts women's bathrooms asking those who visit whether they would like to wear a red or blue cloak. Don't look the full story of Aka Manto up before visiting a public toilet.
Is the Hardley Lady in Red sitting close to a spot where she died? Is she waiting an eternity for someone to meet her? Could she be a demon waiting to claim a soul to drag down to hell or to make a pact with a mortal in return for a favour? Be wary when you approach the crossroads at Hardley late at night, unless you fancy dancing with the devil, cheek to cheek.
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